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Friday, June 10, 2011

Sudan’s Bashir says army clearing oil-rich South Kordofan of rebels

Sudan’s President Omar Al Bashir said on Thursday the army was clearing South Kordofan of rebels, as clashes in the flashpoint border state continued between government troops and members of the former southern rebel army.

“The situation in South Kordofan is under the control of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) which are now clearing the state of the remaining rebels,” Mr. Bashir was quoted as saying by the official SUNA news agency at a cabinet meeting.

Late on Wednesday, top presidential aide Nafie Ali Nafie, in comments also carried by SUNA, said the ruling National Congress Party had given a “free hand” to the armed forces to bring the situation in South Kordofan under control.
It was not the first time such an announcement had been made, with Sudan’s army chief saying last month, after the north's occupation of Abyei, that Mr. Bashir had given him a free hand to react against any disturbance north of the 1956 border with the south.

But it comes on the fifth day of fighting in South Kordofan, the north’s only oil-producing state, which borders the south and was a key battleground during the 1983-2005 civil war.

The United Nations said on Thursday that the fighting was ongoing and had spread across the state.

“There is still fighting today in (the state capital) Kadugli and it has spread to other locations, including Kauda and Talodi,” said Kouider Zerrouk, a spokesman for the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), referring to towns in the eastern part of the state.

He was unable to give details of casualties from the fighting.

Antonov bombers and low-flying MiG fighter jets were observed combing the hills around Kadugli, according to UN sources, where the northern army, or SAF (Sudanese Armed Forces), has also been shelling SPLA positions since Tuesday.

A witness in Kadugli, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Thursday that while the fighting had abated in the town, the security and humanitarian situation was deteriorating.

On Wednesday, police fired tear gas at a group of more than 100 Christians to force them out of a church compound where they were gathered, the witness said, while the Popular Defense Forces, a militia now part of the Sudanese army, were seen conducting house-to-house searches for SPLA troops.

There were also clashes on Thursday in Deleng, around 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Kadugli, a witness there said.

South Kordofan is awash with weapons and retains strong links to the south, especially among the indigenous Nuba peoples who fought on the side of the southern rebels, even though their homeland, the Nuba Mountains, lies in the north.

“I think (the army's actions in) Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile are a deliberate attempt by Khartoum to seize control of those areas before July 9, because they calculate that the SPLM will not want to jeopardize their independence,” said Sudan analyst John Ashworth.

“Abyei was easy in a way, because there were very few forces there to resist. The risk in South Kordofan and Blue Nile is that there is a large number of indigenous forces hostile to the government,” he added.

Since northern troops overran Abyei last month, Khartoum has repeatedly ordered some 40,000 northern SPLA troops to either disarm or redeploy south of the 1956 borders before southern independence, charging they are illegal.

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